Seong Ho grew up in North Korea during the extreme famine of the 1990s. To survive, the young teen would often swipe coal from train cars in exchange for food – which was rarely more than rats and grass.
But tragedy struck one day in 1996. Malnourished, exhausted and slowly starving to death, Seong-ho – whose own grandmother died of starvation – fainted, fell onto the tracks and was struck by a train. In the bloody aftermath, nearby soldiers wrapped his fragile frame in old rags, and shuffled him to a barely functioning hospital in a cart. The wailing boy had to have his left hand and foot amputated – without anesthesia, without anything to dull the horrifying agony.
From there, life as a disabled child in an impoverished, closed society only became lonelier, as he was made fend for himself. Four years later, Seong Ho snuck into China to collect food scraps – but upon returning, was arrested and tortured by North Korean authorities.
That made up his mind: He couldn’t stay. Six years later, in 2006, Seong-ho finally fled – with just an old pair of wooden crutches – across the Tumen River into China. From there he went into Laos, then Thailand, finally ending up in South Korea.
Now living in Seoul, Seong Ho is studying law at Dongguk University.